Shards of metal sliced into Barrett’s skin. He might be able to increase the toughness of his skin enough to make it nearly impervious… but then if a sufficiently sharp shard with enough momentum struck him, beneath the skin would be weaker. Currently, Barrett was doing his best to maintain an overall more stable defense.
More than half of the shards that were directed right towards him were deflected away from him, and the rest generally struck at an angle. That was likely the limit of what Reina could do since she had to defend herself from the few shards that swirled past Barrett. If she didn’t reserve energy to block for herself, one of the shards could stab halfway into her body without too much trouble.
Barrett admired the strength and durability of the metal shards- and the cave walls. Neither of them were worn down from this seemingly continuous activity… which meant they could withstand the forces they were put under easily. If he wasn’t defending his head with his arms, Barrett would have liked to snatch a few of the shards to see what they were made out of. Unfortunately, none of them held still enough for him to get a good look besides the glint of metal.
The pair had reached a hundred meters into the storm of shards, and Barrett could feel the force of the winds and metal increasing. Even so, they had reached twice the distance Reina had felt safe doing alone. Barrett knew he could continue further. “We need to go faster!” Barrett shouted. It was hard for any sound to travel between them with the constant wind and screeching metal, but they weren’t far apart.
“Alright! I’ll follow your lead!” Reina’s voice could just barely be picked out among all the noise.
The wind and metal shards were constantly pushing Barrett back, but he wasn’t at the limit of his strength just yet. Though the impact of the shards would be stronger if he was moving faster… it wouldn’t be that much. Up to this point he’d been going at a steady pace, but he was used to fighting the pressure, and was confident he could accommodate any upcoming changes. The less time spent getting cut up, the better.
Barrett gestured with his hand, “Duck down some!” Leaning forward into the wind was a good way to fall over if it suddenly let up, but the wind here was quite constant. The only reason Barrett had been standing more or less straight up to that point was uncertainty. Leaning forward at an angle that Reina could also accommodate without needing to use much effort to hold herself up, their profile to the wind reduced by perhaps a third. That meant they were actually leaning at greater than a forty-five degree angle.
Once they had their new balance… Barrett started speeding up. He wouldn’t be moving anywhere near his top speed in this place, but instead of taking a few minutes to go the remaining two hundred meters, they could likely make it in thirty seconds.
To deal with the ever increasing power of the wind and metal shards, he had to increase his stamina usage- but he was actually less worried about that. Even if he was using it twice as quickly, he would come out ahead with their increased speed. He also felt the increase in power from Reina’s wind shield- she didn’t have to cover as large of an area, and not for long.
The two of them dashed forward, pushing against everything that blocked their way. Just before the halfway point, Barrett was losing confidence in their ability. The difficulty was increasing too quickly… but as they broke past the halfway point, it actually became easier. Apparently halfway was the point of highest speed. After they passed that, they kept the same pace with slightly less difficulty. Barrett nearly fell over once they reached the end of the area and the wind and metal shards stopped pushing against him, but he subconsciously adjusted the balance of his body. Of course, it wouldn’t have been a problem to reach his arm out or even fall flat on his face. Reina came out of the wind behind him.
Barrett sat down, breathing heavily. He started picking shards of metal out of himself- mostly his arms and chest. Nothing had gone more than a centimeter deep… but that was quite more than most people were comfortable with. As for Reina, she had a few cuts, but little beyond that. Barrett could sense her energy was significantly depleted, which made sense if anything had broken through her defenses. Barrett didn’t like the idea of facing the full force of the swirling winds alone. Could he have done it? Maybe. He could have at least survived, but he would have needed a very good reason to do so. It could be good training though…
As he pulled out one of the metal shards, Barrett stuck it in his mouth and bit down. There was a loud crack as he did so. “Mmn.”
Reina was seated nearby, working on recovering some of her energy and mana. “What was that?”
Barrett just frowned and shook his head. It was hard to train the toughness of teeth, since not all of the tooth was alive. Most of it was, but the very outside… Barrett thought about it for a moment, idly biting down on the metal shard again. Fortunately he didn’t bite hard enough to crack another tooth, but he did slightly stab the roof of his mouth. After a few minutes, Barrett looked over himself. He certainly wouldn’t say he was healed, but he was well enough to go look at whatever might be next. If there seemed to be any danger, he would retreat. “Stabilized?” he asked Reina.
“More or less.” She stood up, “Hopefully there isn’t anything more dangerous up ahead. Though I only sense… one room.”
Barrett concentrated for a moment, and felt the same. “There’s magic in there.”
“It doesn’t seem dangerous.” Reina walked closer, waiting for Barrett to stand up and follow before she approached the threshold of the room. Then she reached her arm inside carefully. “There’s a barrier here… maybe a detection ward of some sort. Let’s step through at the same time.”
Barrett nodded extending his hand. Reina grabbed on, and they stepped into the room. As they did… nothing happened. Not immediately anyway. The two took a few more steps inside before letting go. Barrett could feel something magical happening, but it was slow and not particularly full of power, which could otherwise indicate danger. The ground vibrated slightly in front of them and magic swirled around the room. Barrett could see a small pedestal rising out of the ground. As the magic swirled, a figure appeared. The man nodded towards them. “Congratulations. I have been waiting for a youngster of sufficient talent to show up and pass my trial.” At this point, Barrett could tell it was just an image- it wasn’t looked at either Barrett or Reina, but just in their direction. Besides, while it looked mostly real and was talking, it had no other signs of life or even physicality. “If it suits you, please practice the Breath of Life. It is a wind element technique. It allows you to give wind a life of its own, and even incorporate inanimate objects into the wind. You have seen it already, I imagine. If you do not practice wind element techniques, I would be quite obliged if you could find a suitable candidate to pass the knowledge on to… though I cannot stop you at this time.” As it said that, the figure of the man bowed and faded away. Barrett couldn’t feel any more magic, except a few lingering traces… and what was on the book on the pedestal.
Barrett gestured, “I suppose that message was for you. Lucky find, I guess.”
Reina nodded, “I guess so. I was kind of hoping for something we could split… but I certainly wouldn’t mind a new technique.” She carefully looked over the pedestal before touching the book. She flipped through it before finally putting it in her magic bag. “I guess we have to go back through there…”
“It’s stopped…” Barrett looked back towards where they had come from. As he walked to where he could see in the corridor, he confirmed his ears were right. Not that it would be easy to miss that horrible shrieking sound if it were still there. “How about this… you get the book, and I get all this metal. And the cave.”
Reina looked at the pile of metal shards, some of which were still falling from up above. “I literally couldn’t take this anyway. Be my guest.”